This book has been written for anyone involved in the development or delivery of non-technical skills training programs. Specifically, it is aimed at those who work in any high-risk industry, where safety and productivity are critical. It has been designed to provide practical guidance, drawn from the scientific literature, which can assist in creating training programs that work.

While the term non-technical skills is relatively new, the concept has been integral to professional practice in many work domains for centuries. The term describes much of what we previously might have called craftsmanship, seamanship or airmanship . For instance, it has always been well accepted that to be a safe and successful mariner on the high seas meant much more than to be able to deploy sails and rigging and steer the ship in the right direction. The term seamanship attempted to capture the essence of expertise beyond the simple technical ability to sail. Seamanship described an almost intangible ability to be able to interpret subtle changes in weather, to effectively coordinate crew and to decide when it might no longer be safe to continue. Today, we know that these, once almost mystical, qualities of an expert can actually be defined, specified and most importantly, developed as skills through training. We now call the essence of seamanship non-technical skills.


The purpose of this book is to assist non-technical skills training programs to achieve their goals of enhanced safety and productivity by ensuring that training and assessment practices are built on a solid foundation of what we know to be effective and appropriate techniques. No longer do we rely on years of experience, guided as an apprentice under a master, to informally develop these skills. Over the last few decades, organisations that undertake high-risk activities, such as commercial aviation, healthcare and nuclear power generation, have worked hand in hand with Human Factors scientists to create and validate training programs to develop non-technical skills. This book seeks to share the lessons on what constitutes an effective approach to training and assessment in this domain.

For the last few decades, I have had the good fortune to be one of these Human Factors scientists. I have had the pleasure of working with high-performing nurses, commercial airline pilots, surgeons and anaesthetists, control room operators and locomotive engineers, to name but a few. I have loved learning about what it takes to be an expert in these domains while simultaneously being in awe of what these women and men are able to achieve by way of expert performance in highly demanding and often stressful work domains. In this work, I have consistently seen how non-technical skills contribute directly to safety at the sharp end.

A very large part of what has inspired this book are the practitioners and researchers who have dedicated their time to the science of training non-technical skills and who have contributed to the scientific literature in this field. In this book, I probably refer to only a small selection of these people. However, every paper or book I cite represents a significant body of work in and of itself. This book attempts to synthesise this work, and in many respects, should be read as a lesser summary of all the great work that has already been published in this field. To this end, I have intended the book to be a practical guide, and I urge readers to use this book as a roadmap to point them in the direction of the many more detailed studies of each specific aspect of training and assessing non-technical skills that are referred to in this book.

The book has been designed in part to be a companion to the definitive text on non-technical skills, Safety at the Sharp End.1 While Safety at the Sharp End provides an exploration of the need for non-technical skills training and examines in detail the main components of nontechnical skills as they relate to safe operations, the text does not focus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of designing training and assessment programs. This book aims to expand on the specifics of developing a non-technical skills training program and to provide guidance within the context of adult learning theory and the science of training and assessing skills in a vocational context.

The first part of the book provides an introduction to non-technical skills and outlines how non-technical skills contribute to enhanced safety. This part concludes with an overview of the historical development of non-technical skills training programs from the late twentieth century to now.

The second part of the book provides a detailed overview of the primary considerations that need to be addressed in designing a non-technical skills training program. This part covers topics such as adult learning theory, a set of principles to guide both training and assessment of non-technical skills, and concludes with a brief overview of putting a non-technical skills training program together, from the perspectives of instructional design and needs analysis, and the sources of evidence that can be drawn on to address organisational and individual needs through a non-technical skills training program.

The third part of the book focuses on very specific strategies for training and assessing the basic core categories of non-technical skills:

  • 1. Situation awareness
  • 2. Decision-making
  • 3. Communication and teamwork
  • 4. Task management

There are definitely many more categories of non-technical skills that are important to safe and efficient performance. However, these four domains cover a basic common core seen in many existing nontechnical skills training programs. Each chapter begins with a brief summary of the domain of non-technical skills, situating it within the historic context of accidents and incidents in high-risk industries. Each chapter then addresses in detail the practicalities of training and assessment of that non-technical skills domain in the classroom, in the simulator and on the job.

The training and assessment framework presented in each chapter first presents the core knowledge that is required to develop and deploy non-technical skills in practice. Then, each of the constituent skills is discussed prior to exploring the practicalities of training and assessment in the simulator and on the job.

The book closes with a vision for the future enhancement of nontechnical skills training programs and sets out some areas where our journey to continually enhance human performance in high-risk industries may continue.

1. Flin, R. H., O’Connor, P., and Crichton, M. (2008). Safety at the Sharp End: A Guide to Non-TechnicalSkills. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing.

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